Some Prefer Nettles – Junichiro Tanizaki

 Book # 688a

Reviewer: Kara

Some Prefer NettlesSome Prefer Nettles is about Kaname and Misako, a married couple that is no longer in love. Both are having affairs, both are interested in divorce, but both are putting off the end of the marriage. This is partially to conform to social standards but also to avoid the pain and changes that come with such a decision.

At the same time that Kaname is working towards this very modern life change — divorce — he is becoming increasingly interested in traditional Japanese culture. He goes to several traditional puppet shows with his father-in-law and begins to take an interest in his father-in-law’s girlfriend/consort O-hisa, who dresses, bathes, and generally lives in old-fashioned styles at the behest of her keeper.

This coupling of nostalgia with modernity, and the descriptions of lives lived right on the cusp of a cultural shift, as awareness and interest in western culture is beginning to grow in Japan, is a major theme of the novel and of Tanizaki’s work in general.

The most fascinating aspect is watching Kaname’s internal struggle. As his interest in traditional culture grows, so does his wish for divorce. Early on, it seems that his hesitation to bite the bullet is based on social appearances — what will others, including his father-in-law, think of him and Misako if they part ways? As the novel progresses though, it becomes more and more clear that Kaname is struggling within himself just as much. He fears the change for both himself and Misako, who he deeply cares about even if he does not love her.

To put it simply, Kaname is comfortable with the status quo and reluctant to change, even though it would bring both him and Misako happiness.

Another interesting aspect of the novel is its uncertain ending. I won’t say too much about what happens, but suffice it to say that Tanizaki leaves Kaname on the precipice of a decision. There are very different paths available to him, and we do not learn which one he takes. This is the ultimate example of the vagueness that is very much a part of Tanizaki’s writing style, and something that is even described in the novel as being typical of traditional Japanese writing:

“The composers didn’t think about grammar. If you see generally what was in their hearts, that’s really enough. The vagueness is rich in its own way.”

Tanizaki intends for us as readers to gather clues about Kaname — who he is, how he behaves — and determine for ourselves what decision Kaname will make. I know what I think he will do, and I found the lack of ending more of a fun exercise than a disappointment.

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Home – Marilynne Robinson

Book # 7b

Reviewer: Tall, Short, Tiny & a Pickle

HomeThe accolades for Marilynne Robinson’s Home are splashed across and inside the cover of the copy I borrowed from my local library. “One of the saddest books I have ever loved”, said one reviewer. “A powerful piece of writing”, stated another. I wasn’t skeptical, for there are good reasons why any book appears on this list, but I will admit to being hesitant to have too high an expectation, in case Home didn’t live up to the hype.

I needn’t have been so cautious; Home left me with a rather profound sense of sadness mixed with hope, and I was disappointed when I realised I’d read the last page.

Home tells the story of Glory Boughton and her older brother Jack, who both return to their family home and ailing father. Glory is an English teacher, fleeing from a failed relationship with a disappointing man; she is the youngest of the Boughton children, determined to put the past behind her and tend to her father. Jack Boughton hasn’t been in contact with his family for twenty years. As a child, he was always getting into trouble; as an adult, not much has changed. Growing up, the two siblings felt quite separate from each other, and as the story unfolds, they begin to form a relationship and offer each other the support both need.

This is a story about family, loyalty and love, strongly woven together with faith and redemption, and the uncertain desire to make peace with the past. There is a very strong sense of spirituality and belief, which is at the heart of the Boughton family; I don’t feel qualified to comment much on this aspect of the novel, but it raises some interesting points and the characters are often found in deep theological discussion. Set in the 1950s, there are also elements of politics and race, which, while barely mentioned, prove to be important in shaping Jack’s behaviour and the situation he finds himself in.

Police were pushing the black crowd back with dogs, turning fire hoses on them. Jack said, “Jesus Christ!”
His father shifted in his chair. “That kind of language has never been acceptable in this house.”
Jack said, “I –” as if he had been about to say more. But he stopped himself. “Sorry.”

“No need to be sorry, Jack. Young people want the world to change and old people want it to stay the same. And who is to judge between thee and me? We just have to forgive each other.”

Of the eight Boughton children, we meet just three throughout the novel: Glory, Jack, and Teddy. The others are all mentioned in passing, but do not feature at all; in the beginning, I wondered when we might meet them, but the story didn’t need them to feature, and nothing would have been gained by adding more to the limited cast. The sense of separation in the family is poignant (Glory keeps in touch with all of her siblings; Jack was sought for a number of years but proved elusive), and as Jack and Glory come to rely on each other, there is a sense of uncomplicated loyalty and fondness, not marred by the opinions or experiences of the others. Their relationship is quite hopeful and the trust builds as they open up to each other, but it is full of despairing moments and tears. Glory’s tears could have come across as weakness, but she is incredibly strong and perceptive, with a tenderness and kindness that Jack feels he doesn’t deserve. He has hit rock-bottom a number of times but underneath his self-loathing there is a small spark of hope and willingness to believe he can change, if only someone will give him the opportunity to prove it.

He said, “You get used to kindness. After a while you begin to count on it. You miss it when it’s gone.”
She said, “I know a little bit about that,” and he nodded, and the lilacs rustled, and the sun shone, and there was quiet between them, a calm that came with being of one mind. So she had to say, “You shouldn’t lose hope.”
He laughed. “Sometimes I really wish I could.”
She said, “I know about that, too.”

Throughout Home, there are moments of such hope and happiness that the Boughton family seems grossly normal and successful, but there are also moments of such sadness and desperation that make them seem dysfunctional and distant. Reverend Boughton is desperate for all of his children to get along, and as his health fails further, he struggles to separate the present from the past.

She stepped into the dining room and asked Jack to play, and then she went back to help her father. “‘Softly and Tenderly’,” the old man said. “A very fine song. Is that Gracie?”
“No, it’s Jack.”
The old man said, “I don’t believe Jack plays the piano. It might be Gracie.”
She brought her father down the hallway. He stopped at a little distance from the piano, released her arm, and stood looking at Jack with puzzled interest. He whispered, “The fellow plays very well. But why is he here in our house?”
Glory said, “He’s come home to see you, Papa.”
“Well, that’s very nice, I suppose. No harm in it.”

Some might say that faith is the strongest theme of this story, but I believe it is the power of love – to support, buoy, forgive and fix, but also wound, hurt, disappoint and destroy – that is the strongest theme. The ending leaves the story wide open, but it is hopeful and almost up-lifting; Home is a simply but beautifully written story that won’t bring you to tears, but will leave your heart wishing for more.

150 Books Reviewed: WINNER!

The lucky winner of our giveaway celebrating 150 books reviewed is…

1001 Book WinnerAngela Noelle of Striking Keys!

Angela submitted a very insightful review of 1984 for publication.

Thank you to everyone who entered; while you may not have won a new book, you have won our everlasting thanks for taking us that step further on this review journey.

If you’d like to join our review crew, we’d love to have you on board.

Happy reading everyone!

April Update

7 books reviewed
138 books in total
863 books to go

April saw the review of Book #1 on the list: Never Let Me Go. This means we now have reviewed the very first book on the list, and the very last (Aesop’s Fables)…as well as a few in between.

Reviews for An Artist of the Floating World, Smiley’s People, The Little Prince, Absalom, Absalom, The 39 Steps and The Tree of Man mean we have reviewed 92 books from the 1900s. Given that this is the section with the largest number of entries, we do have a way to go, but this seems to be our most popular century to review!

Never Let Me Go is the only book from the 2000s that we reviewed in April (although it is the second Kazuo Ishiguro novel reviewed this month, along with An Artist of the Floating World), bringing the number of books reviewed from the 2000s to 18.

We have reviewed 20 books from the 1800s, three from the 1700s, and five from pre-1700s.

I wonder – is it the age of these entries that put us off, or their accessibility (both physically and literary)? Or is it more that we are simply attracted to the more recent works? Something to ponder, as eventually, we won’t be able to hide from the 1800s and earlier any longer!

A New Year begins

We hope you have enjoyed the Summer Series of posts so far.  There are only three weeks left of our reduced schedule and then it is back into the full flow of posting two reviews per week.

As always, we would like to thank our volunteer crew of reviewers, your support makes this all possible.   We have had some lovely offers of reviews over the past little while, and now that we are about to get under way with the full schedule, it is time for me to put my editorial hat back on.  If you have offered a review (or two) but have not committed to a date for sending those in, please do so as soon as you can.  If we don’t hear from you shortly we will consider those books open for other reviewers to choose.
We appreciate that life can get in the way of fun things like reading good books, so please just let us know with a quick email.

For those of you who have committed to dates, or are in the process of doing so, many, many thanks for your continued support.

If you have been thinking about sending in a review, you are most welcome to do so.  We don’t bite.  Much.  But as this year starts, we will be introducing a new requirement for our Review Crew.  Deadlines.  Both Tori and I have increased commitments at home this year, so our time is precious, and to help with the posting schedule we will now need any promised reviews to have an agreed date for submission.  Hopefully you won’t find this additional requirement to be too onerous.

Now on to some odd facts about our reviews to date.

We have published 112 reviews so far.  Most sit on their own with no surrounding books reviewed yet.

The most consecutive reviews we have is three:

536. The 13 Clocks – James Thurber
537. Gormenghast – Mervyn Peake
538. The Grass is Singing – Doris Lessing

There are a number of duos sitting next to each other, including:

37.The Book of Illusions – Paul Auster
38. Gabriel’s Gift – Hanif Kureishi

209. The Long Dark Teatime of the Soul – Douglas Adams
210. Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency – Douglas Adams

310. The Passion of New Eve – Angela Carter
311. Delta of Venus – Anaïs Nin

698. Mrs. Dalloway – Virginia Woolf
699. The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald

789. The Turn of the Screw – Henry James
790. The War of the Worlds – H.G. Wells

989 a. Monkey: A Journey to the West – Wu Cheng’en
990. The Princess of Clèves – Marie-Madelaine Pioche de Lavergne, Comtesse de La Fayette

Feel free to offer a review to fill in any gaps between singles, and maybe by this time next year we will have a larger run of consecutive books reviewed.

And following up on an earlier post about which 100 is the most popular, here is an update some six months later.

Books 1 – 99: 19 reviews  (5 more)
Books 100 – 199: 12 reviews (5 more)
Books 200 – 299: 16 reviews (7 more)
Books 300 – 399: 12 reviews (5 more)
Books 400 – 499: 8 reviews (2 more)
Books 500 – 599: 7 reviews (5 more)
Books 600 – 699: 6 reviews (4 more)
Books 700 – 799: 12 reviews (2 more)
Books 800 – 899: 10 reviews (1 more)
Books 900 – 1001: 10 reviews (8 more)

Interestingly this past six months has worked quite well in balancing out the 100s, but there is still something of a middle of the bed slump going on in the 400, 500 and 600s.  What do we all have against mid-20th century literature that it is the least reviewed period so far?

Happy reading everyone !